A Nightmare On Elm Street

*****

Reviewed by: James Gracey

Johnny Depp in A Nightmare On Elm Street
"A Nightmare On Elm Street remains an atmospheric and genuinely unsettling film with a chilling, universally relatable central motif: sleep gets everyone in the end."

Wes Craven’s groundbreaking horror was produced during the early Eighties slasher flick craze; a time when cinemas and video shops were awash with titles featuring sexed-up teens falling victim to morally conservative, murderous bogeymen in various isolated locales. A Nightmare On Elm Street, which tells of a group of teenaged friends who are stalked and murdered in their dreams by the demonic child killer their vigilante parents murdered, set itself apart with its feverish suspense, surreal dream sequences, iconic killer and fantasy horror set-pieces which blurred the line between dream and reality, and exploited the fact that, sooner or later, everyone must succumb to sleep.

Craven’s usual thematic concerns are on full display, as he addresses familial strife, generational conflict and teenage angst, as well as subtextually referencing Grimm fairy tales, German children’s literature and the gruesome Biblical notion that the ‘sins of the father’ shall be visited upon the children. He taps into some very primal and universal fears indeed, not least the fear of parental abandonment.

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Structurally, A Nightmare On Elm Street is a typical slasher film, however beneath the surface, it is a work brimming with rich concepts and haunting ideas. The narrative is frequently pierced by moments of skewed dream logic, ensuring the audience is kept on the edge of its seat, while striking visuals add to the creeping tension. The dream sequences are masterfully handled and provide many memorable set-pieces throughout, not least the scene in which an exhausted Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) drifts off to sleep in her bathtub, only to be pulled beneath the water by a clawed hand reaching up from the seemingly bottomless depths. Other bravura moments come courtesy of the obscene, disembodied tongue that suddenly protrudes from an unplugged telephone to lick at Nancy’s screaming face, and the moment when Glen (a fresh-faced Johnny Depp) is pulled into his bed and spat out as a geyser of gore. Tension is generated from the teens’ increasingly desperate attempts to stay awake and the cruel irony that it was the actions of their own over-protective parents that put them in harm’s way in the first place.

Mainly relegated to the shadows, we only catch glimpses of dream killer Freddy Krueger’s (Robert Englund) hideously burned and glistening face, and his highly distinctive garb of beaten fedora hat, red and green stripped sweater and razor-fingered glove. Thanks to a plethora of ever-ludicrous sequels, Krueger would become an increasingly clownish figure, complete with pun-spouting quips and macabre one-liners. In A Nightmare on Elm Street however, before he was diluted and absorbed into mainstream pop-culture, he was a genuinely terrifying presence, exhibiting genuinely nasty and sleazy characteristics; not least his reputation as a child killer…

With its central premise of a man-made monster capable of stalking and killing his victims in their sleep, A Nightmare On Elm Street remains an atmospheric and genuinely unsettling film with a chilling, universally relatable central motif: sleep gets everyone in the end.

Reviewed on: 05 Sep 2014
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A Nightmare On Elm Street packshot
A child molester killed by vigilantes seeks revenge on their children through their dreams.
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Director: Wes Craven

Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon Ronee Blakley, Johnny Depp

Year: 1984

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: US


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